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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!
Tony Reinke, formerly a journalist, but now a theological researcher, writer, and blogger, has written a book that I feel like I should have written. You see, I’ve spent thousands of hours over the last several years reading. Not just reading, but reading strategically. You might have noticed this by the obvious slant this blog itself has taken toward book reviews.
As I was reading Reinke’s book Lit!, I had the strange feeling of reading a book that sounded like I wrote it. Not necessarily in tone or style, but definitely in terms of content. Much of the advice Reinke offers is great, but for the most part, they were things I already do naturally. However, that this might not be the case for you, so I’d like to not only review this book, but offer a few posts detailing how this book has helped me refine my reading focus. And if it’s helpful to someone like me who reads constantly, I’d be willing to bet some of this advice might help you as well.
Reinke’s book has two parts. The first is a theology of books and reading, and the second is a collection of practical tips. Today we’ll focus on the first part, tomorrow the second, and Wednesday, I’ll roll out some of the changes I’ve made in light of reading Lit!
The introduction of the book is worth noting. In it, Reinke gives you an inside glimpse at some of the questions that framed the book. Some of those include:
- Why should I prioritze book reading in the first place?
- What do I lose if I don’t read books?
- What books should I read?
- What, if anything can a Christian gain from reading fictional literature?
- Where do I find all the time I need to read books?
- Does the gospel really shape how I read books? How so?
In Lit! Reinke attempts to “address each question as directly as possible,” and all in all, I’d say he does a good job at the task.
Starting in chapter 1, Reinke lays “the cornerstone of our theology of books.” In a theology of books, there are basically two categories of books: (1) Scripture, (2) everything else. Following an analogy from Spurgeon, Scripture is the “gold bar” to the “gold leaf” found in other books. In closing, Reinke leaves the reader with his salient point:
Before we step into a fully-stocked bookstore, we must be determined to read the imperfect in light of the perfect, the deficient in light of the sufficient, the temporary in light of the eternal, the groveling in light of the transcendent. (p. 28)
Or in other words, there are many treasures to be found in category (2) from above, but we should never elevate it beyond category (1).
Shifting to chapter 2, Reinke then explains his answer to the last question in the list above: how the gospel shapes our literacy. In short, because of our in-born depravity, we don’t see things as we should, which means we don’t read books as we should. This doesn’t mean we’re illiterate, just that we don’t naturally read with the mind of Christ. But because of the unveiling that Christ brings through the gospel, we are able to read everything in a new light.
In chapter 3, Reinke presents a defense of word over image. Part of me wanted to bristle at this just a bit (having written my thesis on movies after all). However, for the most part I agree with his conclusions, which are:
- Language best captures the meaning of visible realities
- Language best communicates invisible realities
- Language best informs our eternal hope
- Language makes worldview possible
On the plus side, Reinke doesn’t run roughshod over image stripping it of any value in communication. My only contention would be to clarify that often, images can communicate visible and invisible realities better than say, a paragraph in a book. However, and this is the important point, in order for us to understand that communication, it must be incarnated in language. In other words, I may intuitively grasp something from an image, but once I do that, it is immediately translated into language in order for me to mentally process it. Images can’t really communicate anything at all if we didn’t have language to process the visual. So then, word does take a priority over image. But, as is often true, sometimes a single image takes a thousand words to unpack.
Turning now to chapter 4, Reinke explains how a biblical worldview equips readers to gain the maximum benefit from their reading. First, Reinke clarifies the nature of the Christian worldview, and then second, offers some insights into discerning the worldview of the authors we read. He quotes approvingly from Grant Horner’s Meaning at the Movies, a book that helping my own thinking when it comes to evaluating movies and worldview. Avoiding the worldview catalog that Horner and others offer, Reinke instead notes the most salient point about worldviews: they are rarely if ever entirely false, and almost always include elements of truth. The more informed you are of the biblical worldview, the more equipped you will be to discern the truth and not be swayed by the errors.
In chapter 5, Reinke gives 7 benefits of reading non-Christian books:
- They can describe the world, how it functions, and how to subdue it
- They highlight common life experiences
- They can expose the human heart
- They can teach us wisdom and valuable moral lessons
- They can capture beauty
- They beg questions that can only be resolved in Christ
- They can echo spiritual truth and edify the soul
I found myself not only agreeing heartily, but felt that much of his argumentation here about books could be extended to movies as well. Movies after all, are usually not made from a Christian vantage point (though the act of merely telling a story is a Christian activity, as I argued in my thesis) but will have many of these positive benefits. For those wondering why they should bother with reading fiction, Reinke presents a good defense of the activity being beneficial to Christians.
He extends this argument in the last chapter of part 1, where he offers his thoughts on the benefits of developing the Christian imagination through reading fiction. The essence of the argument is that it will improve your ability to understand and appreciate the imagery found throughout Scripture. Basically, the idea is that as you are immersed in good imaginative fiction, your ability to have a feel for the imagery of Scripture will improve. Considering the use of imagery throughout Scripture, this is a clear case of making good use of “gold leaf” in order to grow in our appreciation of the pure “gold bar” of Scripture.
Now having laid this foundation for a theology of reading, Reinke turns in part 2 to present some useful tips for improving our reading. To get to those though, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s post.